Measles in Europe: record number of both sick and immunized

Milestones :: Perspectives

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Measles in Europe: record number of both sick and immunized
7 February 2019 | WHO Europe News release
More children in the WHO European Region are being vaccinated against measles than ever before; but progress has been uneven between and within countries, leaving increasing clusters of susceptible individuals unprotected, and resulting in a record number of people affected by the virus in 2018. In light of measles data for the year 2018 released today, WHO urges European countries to target their interventions to those places and groups where immunization gaps persist.

Measles killed 72 children and adults in the European Region in 2018. According to monthly country reports for January to December 2018 (received as of 01 February 2019), 82 596 people in 47 of 53 countries contracted measles. In countries reporting hospitalization data, nearly 2/3 (61%) of measles cases were hospitalized. The total number of people infected with the virus in 2018 was the highest this decade: 3 times the total reported in 2017 and 15 times the record low number of people affected in 2016.

The surge in measles cases in 2018 followed a year in which the European Region achieved its highest ever estimated coverage for the second dose of measles vaccination (90% in 2017). More children in the Region received the full two-dose series on time, according to their countries’ immunization schedules, in 2017 than in any year since WHO started collecting data on the second dose in 2000. Coverage with the first dose of the vaccine also increased slightly to 95%, the highest level since 2013. However, progress in the Region, based on achievements at the national level, can mask gaps at subnational levels, which are often not recognized until outbreaks occur.

“The picture for 2018 makes it clear that the current pace of progress in raising immunization rates will be insufficient to stop measles circulation. While data indicate exceptionally high immunization coverage at regional level, they also reflect a record number affected and killed by the disease. This means that gaps at local level still offer an open door to the virus,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab. “We cannot achieve healthier populations globally, as promised in WHO’s vision for the coming five years, if we do not work locally. We must do more and do it better to protect each and every person from diseases that can be easily avoided.”…